Perspectives of the development of pre-reading skills on the platform of intergenerational learning: a case study
Keywords: Intergenerational learning, Pre-reading skills, Pedagogy, Seniors, Pre-school age, Case study, Library, Teaching librarian
Mgr. Pavlína Mazáčová, Ph.D., Bc. Kateřina Hanušová / Kabinet informačních studií a knihovnictví, Filozofická fakulta, Masarykova univerzita Brno (Division od Information and Library Studies, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University Brno), Arna Nováka 1/1, 602 00 Brno
The development of pre-reading skills has been receiving a lot of attention from the experts both in foreign and Czech publications. This rise of interest in the subject can be attributed to multiple research project on the PISA or PILRS platforms, targeted on the outcomes of education. In the Czech Republic, the development of pre-reading skills is monitored by Česká školní inspekce (ČŠI), conducting research and providing topical reports on the research1 into reader literacy in pre-school and primary education (e.g. ČŠI 2011). Pre-reading skills should be viewed from the perspective of lifelong learning and functional literacy. The concept itself is strongly linked with the development of information society, in which an individual is required to handle complex work with information, such as searching, understanding, evaluation, interpretation or sharing of information. Connected to the pre-reader phase of child development is the term preliteracy, meaning the initial development of the various skills which constitute the basics of literacy (Průcha, et al., 2009, p. 230). Wildová (2005, p. 25) discusses the so-called “emergent literacy – emerging spontaneously due to the elementary beginnings of the development of reading skills”. In connection with reader literacy, the pre-school period is also called the preparatory period. According to Mertin and Gillernová (2010), it should be during this period that the fundaments of reading skills are developed and the reading and understanding potential is fostered.
A child’s preparation for reading involves developing a range of areas and dispositions, essential for the subsequent learning to read. Books play an important role in the development of child psyche, in their socialising and cultural activity. The importance and contents of books are primarily communicated to the child by their parents, while the secondary developmental environment would then be nursery school. The initial playing with books is later accompanied by spoken word, mostly reading passages to the child, who then forms the first relationship with the book as a listener. Hearing perception is one of the methods of communication, through which the child processes the information about the world around them and through the perception of the read text, the child comes to the conclusion that there is a message within the book. This encourages inquisitiveness and stimulates thinking, speech and vocabulary acquisition. The development of pre-reader literacy therefore consists of various activities, which foster the future ability to read, and of acquisition of competences connected with lifelong learning and interpersonal interactions. Such interactions can take place both on peer and on intergenerational level, within one family or outside of it. In this context, developing pre-reader skills in the nursery school environment should be considered, employing the principles of intergenerational learning.
Intergenerational learning has been receiving attention of the experts within the scope of the so-called intergeneration studies, a field which has been gaining relevance as a result of demographical changes, namely the aging of population, the disintegration of traditional notions of family and also due to the formation of the so-called knowledge-based society, which greatly stresses the importance of being able to work with information and the need for - if not necessity of – lifelong learning (Rabušicová et al. 2016, p. 18). A broadly defined concept, intergenerational learning is perceived as “a set of theoretical, research-oriented and applied knowledge and activities, focusing on providing benefits from intergenerational interaction” (Sanchéz 2006, p. 107), “a process, through which any individual can acquire skills and knowledge, but also stances and values, from everyday experience and from any source in their own lived reality” (Hatton-Yeo 2008, p. 3).
On the level of the categories of learning, intergenerational learning is studied e.g. in the context of the trichotomy of formal and informal education and informal learning, stressing the informal aspect (Rabušicová 2009, p. 133). Within the newest research perspectives, intergenerational learning falls under the categories of lifelong learning and lifewide learning2 (Rabušicová 2009, p. 133), which reflect the context of learning and education of an individual, living in knowledge and information-based society. Intergenerational learning is therefore a broadly defined concept, its defining characteristic being the orientation towards the participants in learning process from multiple generations, either within one family or outside familial bonds, e.g. at schools and in the informal environment of libraries, hobby centres, or institutions providing social and medical care.
In the perspective of information society and the requirements such society imposes upon an individual, intergenerational learning is considered one of the contemporary transdisciplinary aspects of information science. Its research potential lies in the general interest in the interaction of human and information in a knowledge-based society, an interaction, which requires lifelong learning. Research contexts can be found in the institutions of formal education, but with sufficient focus also in the environment of informal institutions, institutions offering social or medical care, or in various communities, examined through the lens of digital humanities. Many theoretical, research-oriented and applied activities, tackled by information science, stem from the topical issue of the context of the life of aging population, namely its integration and the search for opportunities for seniors to live active lives and stay employable. Technology entering everyday life of an individual and influencing their education and learning has become a phenomenon of the 21st century. Education increasingly occurs not just in physical, but also in virtual space, and an individual’s learning strategies are shifting towards self-directed and curated learning. The roles of teacher and learner have also seen changes. Children are digital natives (Prensky 2001), who actively participate in the education process and become those, who educate and provide the older generations with knowledge and skills. From this point of view, we are seeing an increase in importance of intergenerational learning from pupil to teacher, from child to parents and from grandchild to grandparents, since it becomes one of the ways of eliminating informational and digital gap or social alienation, which the older generations often face in the information society (Lupač 2015).
Research interest in intergenerational learning has since the 1970s defined two main areas for research to focus on – informal learning within a family and informal learning in intergenerational programmes and activities. The research into intergenerational learning is performed using both qualitative and quantitative research strategies. It can be either descriptive and focus on programmes, or examine individual intergenerational interaction, alternatively the context, in which the programmes and interactions occur. An interesting perspective on intergenerational programmes is put forward in the study by S.E. Jarrott (2011), which is based on the content analysis of scholarly articles on the topic of the research into intergenerational learning, realised during the last 30 years. This study presents those research ventures, aimed at exploring the benefits of intergenerational learning for an individual, for intergenerational relations and the wider community. In Czech research context, the topic of intergenerational learning is most reflected in the research done by prof. Rabušicová et al., which focuses mainly on family (Rabušicová et al. 2012) and the community environment (Rabušicová et al. 2014).
Theoretical Foundations of the Research
The phenomenon of intergenerational learning, presented in this treatise, is examined on the basis of an educational activity, developing pre-reader literacy3, the research strategy being a case study (Švaříček and Šeďová 2007), localised in the environment of a nursery school. Apart from the basic elements of intergenerational learning and pre-reader literacy, the research also touches upon e.g. the motivational factors of seniors participating in reading to children, the criteria for choosing appropriate texts, or psychological aspects connected with the perception of reading. It is the aim of the authors of this text to present a description and explanation of the processes, which occurred during the research project in intergenerational learning and pre-reader literacy, while also trying to find perspectives for the realisation of activities of this kind by teaching librarians in the informal educational environment of libraries.
Two approaches – descriptive and normative – serve as the basis, from which intergenerational learning can be researched (Rabušicová et al. 2016, p. 18). Descriptive approach recognises intergenerational learning if the condition is met that multiple generations of people interact – typical example would be school education. Normative approach contains the aspect of evaluation, therefore it views intergenerational learning as a desirable educational process, for which educational activities and indeed society as a whole should strive. Adhering to this approach, it is the goal of intergenerational educational programmes to develop and foster understanding and intergenerational dialogue (Rabušicová a kol. 2016, s. 18).
After defining the methodology of the realised research project, the need arose to focus more on seniors and their activity. The interest in the topic of supporting active aging is directly linked with the policies and strategies taken on national level – in the Czech Republic, the Národní strategie podporující pozitivní stárnutí pro období let 2013 až 2017 (MPSV p. 13) was issued. The research project on intergenerational learning allowed us to take into account the factors of active aging, memory and personal characteristics of the seniors. In relation with the processes of intergenerational learning, the senior’s personal characteristics are essential, since they shape the various needs the senior has to satisfy in order to live their old age in comfort and contentment. One of these is the need to be active either in education or in public participation – this need varies from senior to senior and cannot be considered axiomatic (Stuart-Hamilton 1999, p. 171).
Given its focus on intergenerational learning and pre-reader literacy, the realised research project needs to take into account the specifics of pre-school age children. In the perspective of developmental psychology, pre-school age (3 to 6 years) is the age when a child accepts the set of rules, establishing how to behave properly around particular people and in particular situations (Vágnerová 2012, p. 177). A child adopts pro-social behaviour, which also entails respecting the authorities. Apart from speech and thinking, pre-school age also brings the development of emotional intelligence, chiefly of empathy as a component positively influenced by having dialogues with children after reading or narrating them a story (Vágnerová 2012, p. 219–221). Dialogues led during reading or narrating are a stimulating tool to expand a child’s vocabulary. The environment of nursery schools, in which the research into intergenerational learning is conducted, is one of the factors of school context, helping to develop pre-reader literacy. Owing to systematic and directed effort, situations are regularly brought about in nursery schools, that facilitate the development of pre-reader skills (Doležalová 2014, p. 22). The systematic nature of these efforts can be considered an exemplary concept and a practical example of what the programmes developing pre-reader literacy should try to follow in libraries.
The principles of developing pre-reader literacy are prescribed to nursery schools by the foundational curricular document, the Framework Educational Programme for Pre-school Education (or Rámcový vzdělávací program pro předškolní vzdělávání, further abreviated as RVP PV). On the most basic level, it aims to develop key competences connected both with pre-reader literacy (competence to learn, competence to solve problems, competence to communicate) and with facilitating intergenerational understanding (social and personal competences, civil and functional competences). Apart from key competences, the RVP PV also consists of five education lines, of which namely Child and its psyche or Child and other subject (RVP ZV 2017, p. 15–29) are important in the context of this treatise. The education line Child and its psyche allows the pedagogue to prepare and develop activities which foster language skills both receptive (understanding and perceiving) and productive (utterance and pronunciation), which are the precursors to reading and writing. These skills are then supported by activities, such as dialogue, group conversation, listening to read texts and narrating fairy tales or stories. The education line Child and other subject focuses on the realisation and strengthening of interpersonal relationships, be it among peers or across generations, with the aim to encourage pro-social behaviour of pre-school children. Typical activities that fulfil this vision would be narrating or reading stories containing ethical themes and morals.
In order to be able to research pre-reader literacy in a nursery school using the methodology of case study, it was also necessary to study another curricular document, the School Education Programme (or Školní vzdělávací program, abbreviated as ŠVP, online). With educational activities, it emphasizes experiential learning and on fostering respect towards people of any age, achieved through being mindful of both individual and age-related specifics. Of the education goals defined by the ŠVP, this text considers essential those connected to developing learning and cognitive ability of children, imagination, and also adopting the system of basic societal values – fostering tolerance, the ability to respect others and strive for understanding, being aware of equality – through the use of dialogues between children and people around them. It is good to view the content of school curricular documents in the context of lifelong learning and the contemporary convergence of the principles of formal and informal education (Mazáčová 2017, p. 24).
Research Subject and Methodology
The realised research, presented in this article, focused on intergenerational learning as a form of developing pre-reader literacy. The pivotal research question was defined thusly – how does the development of pre-reader literacy on the principle of intergenerational learning work in the environment of nursery school. In order to encompass the complexity of the main research question, three research side questions were formulated – which aspects influence the attention span of children during narration; how the personal characteristics of seniors and children influence intergenerational encounters; what concrete instances of intergenerational learning occur during narration. In the research, attention was also given to the activities directly following or preceding the narration, since such situations meant additional opportunities for intergenerational learning with its overlap into psychology, didactics or social work.
The defined research problem was approached qualitatively, that is, the methodology of case study was used. The research project was realised over the period of three weeks during the Spring of 2017. First group to participate in the research were children aged 3 to 5, numbering 22 to 25. At maximum, this meant 13 girls and 12 boys. Second category of participants consisted of two voluntarily participating seniors, aged 69 and 80, formerly working as teachers. Third type of participant was a pedagogue from the nursery school.
The research phase of the project was realised in the form of six meetings of the seniors and children in the nursery school, during which six complete separate texts were read. The texts differed in length, difficulty both for the narrator and in the reader’s perception, and in whether the texts rhymed or not. Variety was the intended condition in the selection of the texts in order to ensure that the characteristics of texts that would prove appropriate to read to children can be observed and pinpointed. The unifying element of the texts was their genre – they all were authored fairy tales, intended primarily for a child listener or reader.4 When compared to traditional folk tales, modern authored fairy tales contain higher number of actualising elements, such as civilizational shifts or the ethical issues of today’s world and everyday life (Mocná 2004, p. 473). The thematic selection of the texts for the purposes of the research project was specifically tailored to match the educational theme that was supposed to be discussed in the nursery school according to its ŠVP. During the first week of the realisation of the research aim, this meant the topic of Health and my body, during the second and third week, the topic was Spring.
In the research, explicit methodological triangulation of the methods of data gathering was used for the purpose of providing a truthful account of the monitored individual. First method chosen was open non-structured observation. Data were collected both during the observation itself in the form of descriptive notes and after the respective intergenerational meetings had been concluded in the form of reflections. The process of observation also consisted of coding and a subsequent analysis of notes, which helped reveal new areas of research interest (Švaříček and Šeďová 2007, p. 145). A supplementary method of data gathering was used for the sake of triangulation, this being the semi-structured evaluative interviews with two separate participating groups – the seniors and the pedagogue. These interviews were not meant as a tool for acquiring objective information about the research project, rather as a means to clarify some of the actions, subjective experiences and opinions of the respondents that the researcher would note during the observation. When responding in the supplementary evaluative interview, the pedagogue in particular played the role of competent informer (Hendl 2016, p. 151–152) in the field of pre-primary education for this case study, since she attended all the six readings and being a pedagogue, she had expert experience in the field and had intimate knowledge of the children’s personal characteristics.
The interviews were recorded, then transcribed and coded using descriptive coding. The method of qualitative categorisation of data was used and based on systematic comparing and finding regular patterns, empirical data were segmented into a system of categories for the subsequent interpretative phase of the research.
Research data gathered both from open non-structured observation and supplementary evaluative interviews were integrated for the sake of interpretation and discussion, in order to gain complex knowledge of the researched issue. Thanks to the topic and format of the research, categories that were created during data coding overlap in the context of interpretation; it is therefore not useful to consider the distinction too strictly.
The first from the researched categories was connected with personal characteristics of pre-school children. Observation was conducted in an age-heterogeneous class of children from 3 to 5. One of the endogenous factors (Švrčková 2011, p. 42) that affected the results was the age of the children, which is crucial for their ability to develop pre-reading skills. Because the periods for which a three year old and a five year old can pay attention are so different, age-heterogeneity turned out to be problematic. Another crucial endogenous factor (Švrčková 2011, p. 43) which affects pre-reading skills is the attention span of a child. The difficulties caused by the age difference of the observed group in connection with concentration on educational activities were also mentioned in the interviews: “...I think it would be better if such researches were conducted with older children. They can pay attention for longer period of time and it is better to work with them as well.” (informant 2) The pedagogue as well as both seniors agreed that it would be better to conduct activities to enhance pre-school skills with age-homogeneous classes specifically with the oldest children in a nursery school.
Another observed factor that affected the intergenerational project were personal characteristics of several (approx. 5) children. These participants of the research were unable to concentrate from the beginning of the project and in various kinds of behaviour they interrupted the readings of the seniors. Causes of this behaviour were not thoroughly researched; on the basis of an interview with the pedagogue it emerged that to these children “no one reads at home at all”. From her expression a hypothesis can be deduced that the frequency and length of reading apart from other things can affect for how long the children in a specific age group are able to stay focused. In this context it is convenient to focus in the cases of specific children on the issue of learning and behavioural disabilities in order to optimize the conditions of the reading project, so that it would be possible to fully respect the individual specificities of the pupils while preserving the aim and the same activities in context of inclusion (Mazáčová 2017, p. 24).
The second category that was defined during data coding was motivation factors of the seniors. During research interviews, the seniors were among other things asked about their motivation for active participation in the intergenerational reading project. Informant 1 indirectly spoke about her inner motivation: “Well, in the beginning it was mainly because I wanted to help you with your project..., but I agreed because of me as well, I participated earlier like this before a few times and I always liked it.” Informant 2 also saw his participation on the project as a meaningful activity: “Retrospectively, I take it as a good experience... furthermore, I remember my own job as a pedagogue, who always appreciated when something that helps children to advance was taking place.” The research also showed that it had a positive impact on both seniors also in the area of proactive attitude to life, self-fulfilment and enhancement of positive emotions.
In the context of the research it is useful to note the reciprocal relation between motivation and personal characteristics of the seniors (Rabušicová a kol. 2011) and their attitude towards the preparation for particular parts of the intergenerational programme. Comparison showed radical differences in this respect. One of the seniors commented on her preparation for the reading in this way: “I always read the particular fairy tale beforehand, which suited me. I would be nervous to read to the children if I had not read it already. In this way, I could omit some lengthy passages that I thought to be of no interest to the children.” The fact, that the other senior was unprepared lead to numerous slips of the tongue, which negatively affected concentration of the children on the text.
The seniors´ preparation for the readings was considered necessary also by the pedagogue: “I just think it would be better if the seniors were told before the session how to read to the children. Point out that it is better to narrate, rather than read, to change voices... The children would then be able to process longer texts.” at this point it should be stated that the seniors were offered a training by the nursery school before the reading project; both of them declined.
Qualitative research produced results that are usable in various disciplines in the context of information science, where they would contribute to researches of information behaviour or reader strategies and preferences, as well as the research of senior interaction in real environments of information society. The phase of selection of the seniors for the reading points to a conclusion that voluntary involvement of seniors in intergenerational programmes focused on reading is not commonplace. Seniors that were contacted but refused to join the project stated that the reason they did not want to participate was bashfulness in front of the children during reading and worries due to their health condition, e. g. worsened eyesight. These findings mirror particular theoretical background in developmental psychology that show that seniors often avoid the unknown because of the fear of possible failure (Vágnerová 2007, p. 341).
In accordance with the aforementioned theoretical framing of intergenerational learning in normative and descriptive conception (Rabušicová 2016) a third category was formulated – development of competence during intergenerational encounters. Research data allowed specifying the typology of competence to “soft categories” that follow the contemporary theory of key competences in formal as well as informal education. From the researcher´s notes to the observation, which describe the introductory activity of the senior in the intergenerational programme, it is obvious that via the interaction of the senior and the children, intergenerational understanding was developing: “Hello kids, do you know why I came to you? Well, to read you a story and also because I am old. And perhaps you do not know old people like me, and so I came for you to see that there are such old people in the world and that they are fun too.” Relationships between the participants of the course were friendly, the positive attitude of the children towards the seniors and their interest in them were evident (among other things) from addressing them “grandpa” and “grandma”. The positive impact of the project on the development of competence approach in education was noticed also by the pedagogue, who emphasised the need of intergenerational encounters to strengthen intergenerational understanding and solidarity so that information society can function properly: “The most valuable, I think, is the meeting of grandma and grandpa with the children...moreover, I think that similar intergenerational encounters are important... many children do not have grandparents or they do not visit them, so it is needed to cultivate their solidarity and mutual understanding, especially in these days.”
As a reflection of the descriptive conception of intergenerational learning (Rabušicová et al. 2016, p. 18), a fourth qualitative category was created as a part of the work with research data, called processes of intergenerational learning. It compiles examples of intergenerational learning that we could observe during the interaction of the seniors with the children in the context of the whole reading project; interactions took shape of targeted educational practice. After the senior finished reading the texts with the topic Health and my body, he for example inquired about the children’s reception of the read text with questions, which made them recall the knowledge about various kinds of vegetables and held a conversation about the benefit of their consumption. The other senior and the children during the reading discussed the issue of Health and my body, the senior asked the children for example about their pre-concepts (children´s own, naive, “pre-scientific” concepts) of illnesses and precautions to take to prevent these illnesses. Similarly, after the reading of texts with the topic Spring, both seniors used didactic methods with questions during auditory perception with understanding, which was focused on the knowledge of spring flowers as well as understanding and recognising of typical features of the particular season of the year. Both seniors used teaching tools and combined them appropriately with the texts – willow twig, stick or illustrations accompanying the text. The pedagogue provided following argumentation in favour of the importance of intergenerational reading activity in the cognitive development of children during the evaluative interview: “We have a topic for every week... so we recalled the stories when we talked about flowers, for example. Thanks to the readings, the children remembered well the names of the flowers.” It is clear that the seniors´ actions during the research therefore had an educational impact on the target group of children in the field of the development of perception of heard text with understanding, which is one of the main components of pre-reading skills (Truesdell 2015, p. 430–434).
As a part of the categorization in the case study, a fifth category was formulated as the factors that have impact in the intergenerational programme on the perception of the read text by children of pre-school age. Concrete examples of instances when perception was investigated as they appear in the notes of researchers: “The children pay more attention when there is a dialogue in the text, or when the senior shows emotions which the character feels in the read text, specifically crying... the children become attentive when the senior shows them the book’s illustrations... the children react well to rhymes in the story... and they make up their own words and finish the rhymes correctly... the children laugh at funny words in the story and concentrate fully on the text... the children focus on illustrations that the senior shows and together with him they anticipate what the story may be about.” Evaluative interviews with the seniors brought findings about how important it is to choose a text convenient for the perception with understanding: “I changed the first text... it was written in an archaic language and I believe that the children would not react well to it.” (informant 1). For the perception of read texts to be optimal and the children to be able to focus as long as possible, it is therefore advisable to choose text with features such as prevalence of direct speech, only short descriptive passages or passages of for example landscape description, rich content with adequate amount of figurativeness, always in accordance with the children’s age. Furthermore, the research showed that the perception of read text is high when there are dialogues, rhymed or funny passages.
Apart from the text selection it is also important (regarding the perception of the text) to pay attention to the form of presentation of the text; that is the way how it is read. In this respect several particular findings emerged on the basis of the research. Apart from the aforementioned readiness of the seniors for the reading, it is advisable to change voices when reading a dialogue and to interrupt the reading often to communicate with the children. It is also useful to proceed from reading to narration. Having in mind the target group, for education it is beneficial to show the children illustrations accompanying the read text, and in this way to involve more senses in the process of learning and cognition, which is also connected with the need to present the illustrative samples of objects that are mentioned in the read text (Vágnerová 2012, p. 177–181) – in the case study, such an object was a willow twig that the senior brought for the reading of the story “Willow fairy”.
Interpretative phase of the research introduced a number of interesting findings concerning both the participants of the intergenerational programme and the educational programme and the whole concept of intergenerational learning. Gathering enough data using various methods of data collection enabled the search for answers to the main research question and side questions.
Researchers were primarily interested in how personal characteristics of seniors and children affected the progression of intergenerational encounters. The research showed that a major aspect of intergenerational programme was the voluntary participation of the seniors in it. The research proved that even though volunteering is one of key features of intergenerational programmes, participation of volunteers is not always matter-of-course and it is always linked with inner motivation. Positive attitude of the seniors towards children, accepting their “naughtiness” was an important factor of a successful execution of the intergenerational learning programme. There is yet another factor that played a considerable role throughout the programme, and that is the fact that the seniors had previous personal experience with children as a target group for reading in the form of family intergenerational activities (the senior read her grandchildren), as well as professionally (former teachers). Professional history positively affected for example the fact that they did not feel embarrassed in front of the children, they were proactive while working with the texts and they were able to make didactic alterations to the educative content and work with questions and activating aspects of teaching. Personal characteristics of the children were traced through observation and implicitly in consequent interviews with the seniors and the pedagogue. The research lead to findings that if the educative group of pre-school children is age-heterogeneous, it displays heterogenous behaviour and interaction with seniors. It is necessary to reflect individual differences between children in social and cognitive context and adjust to these differences the types of read texts as well as activities that accompany the readings.
The research dealt with aspects important for the execution of intergenerational projects that develop pre-reading skills, more precisely the aspects that affect attention span of children during readings. The investigation showed how important personal characteristics of the seniors and the children are as well as the texts selected as the basic educative material of the intergenerational programme. The research also briefly dealt with forms and methods used in the intergenerational programme.
In order for an intergenerational reading programme to run smoothly and benefit its participants, proper selection of texts is crucial – the texts need to be adapted for the heterogeneity of the educated children group, particularly their age and educational specifics. The text should have features typical for its stated purpose in the sense of length and amount of figurativeness; it should contain rhymes and a majority of dialogues over descriptive passages. A key factor is also the language level of the read texts; that is the absence of archaisms, foreign expressions and complicated sentences. The attention span of the children was positively affected by linking of the read text to the real world via objects that the seniors used in class as well as via personal stories that the seniors presented to the children in the context of their readings. Important role for keeping and strengthening children´s attention played suitably asked questions, activation through simple tasks, work with pre-concepts, linkup to the knowledge the children already had. The research also showed that reading has positive effect on attention when it is accompanied with facial expressions that convey the meaning of the read text. If a senior is an active participant of an intergenerational reading programme, he or she should pay attention to the text and its specifics before the reading session to avoid slips of the tongue and monotonous reading.
On the background of the research conception by S. E. Jarrott (2011), who examines the benefits of intergenerational programmes for individuals, intergenerational relationships and community, the presented research aimed in the scope of the case study to provide a description of particular cases of intergenerational learning during reading. The signs of intergenerational learning could be traced on both material and competence level. On the material level, a senior passed on information in the form of concepts; the children gained knowledge about the topics of health and nature. In this context, intergenerational learning worked in the traditional direction, from the senior to the children and the senior played a role of an omniscient mentor (Rabušicová 2012, p. 174), who brings the children new information about the world. The character of the programme gave the seniors a chance to be active, to learn new communication schemes, to think of strategies that they can use during reading, to use experience from their past as professional teachers in using particular educational methods and didactic tools. The role defined for the seniors in the intergenerational project encouraged their mental activity to gain more confidence. Pre-school children acquired via the intergenerational project new information, skills and attitudes not only towards the topics that were conveyed during the readings, but also in connection with the seniors themselves and their lives. Activities and behaviour of the children throughout the project helped the seniors to realise and understand what a pre-school child of the 21st century is like and what characteristics define it
The research was focused primarily on examples of intergenerational learning on the level of key competences, also called soft skills or “soft categories” (Rabušicová 2014, p. 120). In the perspective of social, personal and communicative competences, an interaction in the form of intergenerational dialogue took place between the seniors and the children, part of which was to strengthen the value of seniors when passing knowledge, traditions and cultural awareness to pre-school children.
At the same time, respect towards the knowledge and experience of the older generation was built. The dialogue, where the mutual interest in a different generation was evident, was strengthened by particular activities of the seniors (playing the piano, narrating a personal story), as well as the children (pictures as a gift, singing, clapping as an expression of joy from the meeting) Activity of intergenerational importance was crucial also from the aspect of mutual support. Here it is appropriate to evaluate positively the support of the seniors by the nursery school, trust in their capability and life experience.
The intergenerational project significantly developed mutual understanding of the generations that participated in the project. During the project, the seniors met the generation of pre-school children of the 21st century, a school group in many ways new and unknown to them. The several-day project enabled the seniors to get to know current pre-school children better in the environment of a nursery school, to understand the individual characteristics of the pupils, to observe their behaviour, to understand, that nowadays the children are more active, need more impulses as a motivation for education and for the process of learning. For the children the encounters with seniors were in some cases an opportunity to get to know a person in the last stage of life, an opportunity to find out that s/he has characteristic facial features, physique and voice, that s/he has health issues, that s/he has to cope with, that s/he has characteristic patterns of behaviour, conduct, language, life experience and wisdom. The intergenerational programme enabled the children in particular situations that occurred spontaneously to strengthen their emotional intelligence, for example on the level of empathy or gratitude.
The several-day project of intergenerational encounters facilitated and developed congenial feeling between the children and the seniors, which grew as the programme proceeded and as the activities worked well and their benefit and sense became obvious. The congenial feeling was evident together with growing mutual trust and positive reception and manifested in particular situations; for example, in the spontaneous joy of the children from the meeting, singing to show thanks or addressing the seniors “grandma” and “grandpa”, but also in how moved the seniors were in situations, when the children showed gratitude and empathy. During the intergenerational programme we observed positive emotions in the case of children as well as the seniors. The seniors had a chance to relive happy and pleasant situations, similar to those from their previous professional life of a teacher. The emotions of the seniors were accompanied with the feelings of satisfaction, relevance in the society and usefulness. The children showed positive emotions by cooperation in reading activities, expressing happiness, hugging of the seniors and small gifts that they themselves made.
It is evident from the research that the outputs from the intergenerational programme in the category of soft key competences are not easily measurable. Fostering of intergenerational dialogue, mutual support, congenial feeling and understanding nevertheless are decisive criteria of the benefits of intergenerational pre-reading projects in the context presented by S. E. Jarrott (2011).
The context of the research on the level of information science and its localisation in the environment of a formal educational institution offered an opportunity to find answers to the questions about the functionality of intergenerational encounters. Even though there was only a limited quantity of participants from selected target groups, the research brought a clear message: it is evident that via reading and interaction with the text during intergenerational encounters fosters intergenerational dialogue encourages understanding. There are also processes of acquiring competences for life-long learning. Building upon theses from “National strategy supporting positive ageing in years 2013-2017” the research project meant a beneficial argumentation for the statement that in order to reduce stereotypical opinions on aging it is advisable to start with functional intergenerational activities with the children of very low age.
The evaluation of data from the research project showed that intergenerational activities of life-long learning based on interaction with the text have in several aspects an impact on the development of pre-reading and reading skills. The most important benefit from reading, narrating stories and discussion about the read text is the tightening of the relationship between the reader and the listener. Moreover, the brain functions of the child are developed, as well as imagination, emotional health is strengthened, the level of concentration is enhanced, active and passive vocabulary is expanded, the child learns the basic rules for using language – all these are factors that determine what pre-reading and then reading skills the child will have in the future. From the research it is also evident that to secure optimal conditions it is advisable to use programmes of seniors reading to the children as a part of educational activities in formal and informal institutions, as well as in facilities that provide social and health care.
On the level of an institution such as public library the realisation of intergenerational educational programmes can be linked with the strategy of the development of the library as an educational community centre, including a suitable acquisition policy aimed to support intergenerational reading projects. In the perspective of the realized research we can state that activities like intergenerational encounters have pro-inclusive potential, can affect positively the relation to texts, to a story as a source of joy, information and knowledge even in the case of children who for various reasons do not have optimal social background for the development of basic literacy needed for life in information society.
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1 The scholarly text is based on the bachelor’s diploma thesis of Kateřina Hanušová, Principy mezigeneračního učení v prostředí mateřské školy při rozvoji předčtenářské gramotnosti, which was successfully defended in 2017 at the Division of Information and Library Studies at the Faculty of Arts of Masaryk university. The work is available in electronic form at: https://is.muni.cz/auth/th/437827/ff_b/Bakalarska_prace_Hanusova_Katerina.pdf.
2 Lifewide learning is defined as a range of opportunities and environments, in which an individual’s learning process occurs. Meaning not only the long-term, lifelong process, but also one occurring in a wide spectrum of situations, actions and conditions, which have no set duration.
3 The field of pre-reader literacy has no set terminology. The Framework Educational Programme for Pre-school Education considers the terms pre-reader literacy and reader pre-literacy to by synonymous. This article uses only the term pre-reader literacy in accordance with Iva Tomášková’s conception, which she put forward in her publication Rozvíjíme předčtenářskou gramotnost, s. 13
4 For the purposes of the research project, fairy tales were used from the following publications: Královna motýlů a jiné pohádky; Pohádky z mechového lesa; Jaro: zvyky, obyčeje, náměty, návody, pohádky příběhy a jiné hry; Rok s krtkem; Jaro léto podzim, zima, ve školce je pořád prima; Povídání o pejskovi a kočičce jak spolu hospodařili a ještě o všelijakých jiných věcech. Complete list of texts read during the research project can be found in the list of sources in the bachelor’s diploma thesis of Bc. Kateřina Hanušová. Accessed at: https://is.muni.cz/auth/th/437827/ff_b/Bakalarska_prace_Hanusova_Katerina.pdf.